I Bought a 2005 Subaru Outback and It Exploded Immediately
I thought six-cylinder Subarus might escape the automaker's curse for killing head gaskets, but alas... no.
A few weeks ago I went on the search for a fun adventure vehicle car and settled pretty quickly on a 2005 Subaru Outback 3.0R. My first few days with it were stressful, with big buyer’s remorse waterlogging my heart, almost blowing the engine with a dangerously low oil level, and generally starting off on the wrong foot with my new purchase entirely. I did have one glorious week with my new car, and it set me on an entirely new journey when the worst happened: It exploded.
Since that first post about my buying experience with the Outback, I did a bunch of buzzing around the desert in it. Trails that I haven’t been able to explore in years because of my lack of a truck were suddenly open to me, even some stuff that my truck couldn’t do.
The entire seven days I had with the then perfectly functioning Outback were an honest-to-Jesus revelation to me. I come from a family of Toyota trucks and SUVs and have always preached the absolute superiority of a proper body-on-frame off-roader. Part of me suspected that adventure cars like the Outback were just gimmicks; for people who just wanted a worse road car. Here’s the truth: this Outback is every single bit of the off-roader most people will ever need, with almost none of the compromise.
Everything I resent about a “proper” truck isn’t present in the Outback. It doesn’t jiggle over bumps, it rides as soft as good bourbon, and feels about as numb and warm as the third glass of it. The steering still has nice, old-school hydraulic stiffness while being somewhat direct and car-like, the 3.0-liter flat-six absolutely shreds to redline, and it’s one of the quietest cars I’ve ever owned, only losing to my ‘98 Lexus LS400. I can best summarize the Outback 3.0 like this: A lifted all-wheel-drive living room.
Then take that living room, and give it incredibly decent approach, breakover, and departure angles. Oh, and excellent traction thanks to Subaru’s honest-to-goodness full-time all-wheel-drive system.
I fell in love pretty quickly. My other car, a 2010 Volkswagen GTI six-speed manual that has been trackified and made aggressive with a host of suspension and drivetrain changes, became just a little tiresome on some daily commutes. The luxury of just hopping into a cheap lifted shitbox, turning the key, and slamming into drive cannot be overstated. Instead of taking pavement for my Wednesday morning coffee, I’d just Scandi flick the Outback into a dirt field and get to my local barista as-the-crow-flies. If that isn’t bliss, I don’t know what is.
You can imagine my disappointment when the car decided to run a little warm one day, specifically on my way back from GRIDLIFE skip day. The car ran ace until I decided to take a slow trail home and I saw my temperature gauge begin to creep up. If I sat around, it would continue creeping up to the danger zone, but cooled right down once I gained some speed. My immediate suspicion was a bad radiator or thermostat, so I promptly got back on pavement and parked the car for a few days until I found some time to get a new Subaru thermostat.
Once I got it, I set to disassembling the Outback. It was easy as cake: undertray off, two 10mm bolts, and a clean drain pan to catch my coolant. I got the old one out and the new one installed and buttoned up, but before I filled it with coolant and burped it I figured I’d run a test: put the old thermostat in sufficently hot water and see if it actually failed.
My particular T-stat is rated for 82˚C (about 180˚F), so I got a bowl and boiled some water up to 212˚F, plopped it in and found out that my old thermostat was, in fact, totally stuck. At the time, it was a great sign of my issue! But alas, it was a false dawn.
The car did hold temperature rock steady for two days after the swap… and only two days. I took it out for a longer round trip of about 30 miles and it was fantastic until I rounded the final corner to my house and the temperature gauge shot straight up to the red zone and I smelled coolant. I quickly pulled into the extended driveway on the side of my place, shut the poor thing off, popped the hood, and hopped out. I saw some drips of coolant on the ground, opened the hood, and saw coolant splashed from the overflow tank.
I opened the overflow tank, and my own physical body overflowed with grim acceptance; the overflow was overflowing and bubbling like crazy. Blown head gaskets. How poetic of you, Outback. How original.
As it turns out, my flat-six Subaru superiority complex was misplaced. I thought that Subaru had the presence of mind to fix its notorious faulty head-gasket issues on their newly redesigned EZ30D engine, but I am no better than some EJ-engined commoner. My head gaskets had blown like any other Subaru. And like any other Subaru, I now must do the engine-pulling walk of shame and get it fixed.
Catch it here next time folks, and tell me “I told you so” in the comments. Trust me, I deserve it. But don’t worry – I’m not going to drop this car off at a junkyard. I’ve got time, I’ve got tools, and I’ll get it back on the road.